Below is an interesting discussion on paralinguistics, written by  John Wells; a renowned phonetician. How can we account for paralinguistics in speech recognition? What challenges does it bring to the existing models of speech recognition? 



Ordinary words of any language can be represented as strings of phonemes of that language (together with indications of phonemic stress, tone etc., depending on the language). But there are some “words” that are exceptions to this generalization.Clicks in many languages are a case in point. The sound represented in English spelling as tut, tut tut, tsk or tsk tsk is articulatorily a single or repeated click (often categorized as ‘dental’, though in English it’s generally actually alveolar) and is used to show disapproval or annoyance. It stands outside the phonological system, since it is not a phoneme of English (no lexical words include it), and it stands outside the syntactic system, since it does not enter into sentence structure (it’s not a constituent of any larger syntactic unit). So we call it ‘paralinguistic’. Note, though, that its meaning and use are language-specific. What applies in English does not necessarily apply in other languages. In Greek or Hebrew the same click sound does not show annoyance, but stands for ‘no’ (a cause of possible misunderstanding and dismay for English tourists asking, for example, if a ticket or room is available).Sometimes there is quite a lot of variability in the identity of the ‘same’ paralinguistic interjection. In LPD I agonized over how best to show the pronunciation of ugh, the sound we make when something is extremely unpleasant or disgusting. I finally put

ʊx ʌɡ, jʌx, ɯə, uː — and various other non-speech exclamations typically involving a vowel in the range [ɯ, u, ʌ, ɜ] and sometimes a consonant such as [x, ɸ, h]

There are other spellings in use, too, such as yuk, eeurgh, eeeuw.

The Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell puts this into the mouth of his French artist character as èrgue, which implies the pronunciation ɛʁɡ(ə). (I believe the real French equivalent is pouah pwɑ, which must lead to interesting punning possibilities when discussing weight poids or peas pois.)  To decipher the cartoon (click to enlarge) you have to know French spelling conventions and be familiar with the mangling English vowels stereotypically undergo in the mouths of the French — and you have to put the result into nonrhotic English, e.g. “murney” = money.

What started this train of thought was a FB status by my nephew. I haven’t got meh in LPD. It can’t have been around for more than about ten years, if that (can it?). I obviously ought to put it in the next edition. It means something like ‘I’m not impressed’ or ‘I don’t feel very enthusiastic’. It’s pronounced me (like met but without the final t), which IS a string of English phonemes but violates the phonotactic constraint that disallows words ending in the DRESS vowel.

Was it the Simpsons who invented this addition to our paralinguistic repertoire? Or at least who popularized it?



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Filed under Topics in Psycholinguistics

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